One of the traditional staples of science fiction is video chat. Any sci-fi flick worth its salt tells us how technology in the future will allow for effortless and easy communication. And, while we still don’t have Star Wars-style holograms, we do have video chat. Not only that, but modern video chat is totally free. I guess we’re getting a bit closer to the future.
Cell phone companies like Google and Apple are well aware of this. Android and iOS both come packaged with free video chat applications, Google Talk and FaceTime respectively. However, there is a surprisingly large number of third party video chat applications for Android that are totally free and are in many ways better than Google Talk. Here are a few viable alternatives if you’re looking to improve your video calling.
This article is part of the Beat The Stock series that explores the best replacements for your stock apps. Other articles in this series include –
- Messaging (SMS) Apps
- Dialers and Contacts
- Web Browsers
- Music Players
- Video Players
- Instant Messengers
- Video Chat Apps (Currently viewing)
The Stock Video Chat App: Google Talk
We only mention this app as the baseline, the app from which everything else grows. Google Talk comes free on every Android device as the stock app. Granted, it’s not available on many custom ROMs, but at some point in your ownership of an Android device you will encounter it.
Google Talk is the kind of the bare minimum. The video quality is sketchy and the interface acceptable at best. It does integrate with your Gmail contacts nicely, but so does every other video calling app.
Then again, if you’re heavy Gmail user then Google Talk is nice because it’s fully cross-platform compatible. You can chat away with any fellow Gmail account via text or video calling across phones or PCs. Gmail fans might find something valuable here. I enjoyed the text chat system, even if it’s not Handcent SMS-smooth.
The only other knock I have against Google Talk is that not all its features are deployed across all devices. People with a high-end Android phone like a Nexus S get video calling, but lesser Android devices don’t.
If you don’t want to bother downloading an new video chat app, then Google Talk should work. It’s the stock app. While it’s by no means bad, it’s also not as complete and fully featured as several other calling and chat apps.
Best Alternative Video Calling Apps:
Ah, Skype. There are many apps on this list, but Skype is my favorite. It’s clearly the leader in video calling. Even people who have no technical expertise know what Skype is. That in and of itself is a huge advantage for Skype – the user base is the largest of any video calling service.
The core of Skype is simple. Sign up for an account and download the app for Android, iPhone, Windows Phone, PC, Mac, and high-end television sets. The most important part (video calling) is free, and for the majority of people that’s all they need.
I can personally attest to Skype’s usefulness and value. Since my parents live hundreds of miles away from me, Skype video chat is a great way to see them without having to drive for hours. This is a godsend for college students who want to “phone home”.
Skype video quality is highly dependent on the device being used. Any modern Android device or decent PC can provide good quality video on a high speed internet connection. A lot depends on the camera installed on your Android device, but it’s generally good.
Skype does fall short in a few key ways, though. Video calling is strictly between two people and has no group chat – a feature that makes Fring so nice. Also, if you want extra features like offline calling or calling non-Skype numbers, you’ll have to pay extra for the privilege.
There is no text chat either. Everything is done by video or voice. This isn’t the worst feature to omit, but it’s kind of a nice touch. Text chat is the one area where Google Talk beats Skype.
All in all, Skype is a fantastic way to chat with family and friends. It’s the best for being free, easy to use, available on multiple devices, and a quality product. If you download any video calling app, Skype is the best.
Fring is a good alternative to Skype. While it’s unfortunately limited to mobile devices only, it does offer one key feature that Skype doesn’t – group chat. If you have a couple friends on iOS or Android, you can do some cross-device chat.
Fring also does a good job of making everything presentable. Where Skype clothes its app in smooth blue and white, Fring is drawn in charmingly cartoonish graphics. It’s an interesting approach to an interface that works and helps differentiate Fring visually.
Speaking of visuals, Fring video calling quality seemed a lot more… mediocre than the other apps I tested. But then again, the quality is still good. It’s just not excellent.
Basically, if you’re dead set on group chatting with your iPhone/Android-wielding friends, then Fring is your best bet. However, the lack of users and support only for mobile devices will probably push everyone else to Skype.
Tango is pretty darn similar to Skype. It’s available on Android, iPhone, PC, and Mac. Cross-platform video chat is allowed as long as it’s between two Tango users. I really liked how Tango automatically goes through your contacts list and shows you who has a Tango account, unlike Skype.
The video quality is solid, but as always is much improved over Wi-Fi. Video calling over 3G isn’t great, but you can say that about every video calling app. Bottom line is that if you’re dead set on a Skype alternative, then Tango is a solid choice.
ooVoo is another excellent video calling alternative that offers a great deal more features than those of Google Talk. It offers video calling over Wi-Fi and all forms of data. However, the usual caveat applies. You can chat over data, but you’d better do it over Wi-Fi if you want good quality.
Similarly to Skype, ooVoo also includes voice calling, just like a real phone. All types of calls (video and voice) between ooVoo users are free, and they’ll generously let you call landlines and mobiles for a low cost per minute… just like Skype.
Basically, ooVoo enjoys all the advantages I mentioned for Skype, just without the massive user base and easy Facebook integration. If you’re desperate for a Skype alternative, this could serve you well.
I’m no huge fan of Google+, but it does have an interesting video calling feature bearing the odd title of “Hangouts.” Google completely integrated a new video calling service into its burgeoning social network. The features are your stock video calling stuff, there’s nothing that reinvents the wheel here.
However, the nice part about Hangouts that makes it worth mentioning is just how integrated it is within Google+. Hangouts makes it easy to call up your friends to a little face-to-face. What Skype is to Facebook, Hangouts is to Google+. Fans of Google’s social network will probably enjoy the easy video calling, but if your friends are on Facebook then you may as well stick to Skype.
Though Google Talk is a good video calling app, there are many options which are better both in terms of service and features. If you are seriously into video calling, it is better to get the best apps for the purpose. This list should make your hunt for the better video chat app easier.
Well, these are the best video calling applications that we found. What do you use for video calling? Let us know in the comments.